CICF News / 2012 / June / News Post
June 5, 2012
Learning – From The Classroom To The Community Center

An educational researcher came to a conclusion after studying groups of students before and after summer break:

Children from all backgrounds learn basic skills at about the same rate during the school year. Nearly all of the differences in achievement between poor and middle-class children are rooted in experiences outside of school – in the summer and out-of-school time.


That research was published in 1906. In 1997, researchers found the same results. Over a century has passed, and the problem of summer learning loss continues to impact our nation’s children.

Today, Marian University is trying to address this challenge by working to turn the tide of summer learning loss for central Indiana’s youth.

Since its launch in 2010, Marian University’s Summer Learning Institute has had one goal: to prevent and reverse summer learning loss in Indianapolis’ youth. Instead of launching a city-wide camp, the Institute focuses on helping local organizations to plan, implement and evaluate summer learning activities. With a combination of hands-on workshops and coaching, the group’s Teacher Support Cadre offers free support to all Summer Youth Program Fund agencies.

Camps as Classrooms

The average summer day camp counselor is no stranger to teaching. From dream catchers to conflict management, camp staffs work hard to ensure that young people have productive and positive summer experiences. With mounting evidence of the impact of summer learning loss, many summer programs are adding math, literacy and science to their program goals. Yet as some camps find the financial support needed to incorporate certified teachers into their staff, others struggle to find resources to support academic outcomes.

summer learning group
The Summer Learning Institute emphasizes hands-on math and language arts activities.

Marian University’s Summer Learning Institute, which has been supported by The Indianapolis Foundation since 2010, manages this challenge by both amplifying existing staff skills and bringing trained pre-service teachers to summer programs. In 2011, more than 300 youth development professionals gained teaching skills in 16 workshops. The Institute’s Teacher Support Cadre – a team of pre-service and master teachers – led 875 youth in 33 programs in engaging activities that support math and literacy skills.

“Many of our campers really gravitated to the cadre because of their positive energy and their willingness to teach them,” says Tiffany Boyd, Youth Program Coordinator at Southeast Community Services. “We know that only 44 percent of the students in our service area graduate from high school, so summer learning really matters.”

The results, measured in pre- and post-program tests, are powerful. Nearly 75 percent of youth who participated in the 2011 program either improved or maintained their math scores. This is compared to an average loss of 2.6 months of learning among youth who don’t participate in summer programs.

Summer Learning Leads To College Success

Because summer learning losses are most stark among urban youth, the Summer Learning Institute focuses on supporting youth who are most likely to experience learning loss. They are also helping the next generation of teachers prepare to teach urban classrooms by including them in the Teacher Support Cadre.

For The Indianapolis Foundation and Summer Youth Program Fund, summer learning is a critical issue. In addition to the disproportionate effect of summer learning loss on disadvantaged youth, new research links that loss to decreased high school graduation rates and reduced college attainment. By linking higher education to local camps, Marian University is likely helping Indianapolis’ youth to achieve college success and readiness. High school diplomas have a value that goes beyond graduates.

“Reducing the yearly dropout cohort of twenty-year-olds by one-half would reduce criminal justice costs, public health costs, and public assistance costs,” says Judy Bardonner, Director of Marian’s Center for Community Learning and Summer Learning Institute, citing a 2009 study. “It would also increase tax revenues and return a net benefit to tax payers of at least $45 billion annually.”

More about the 2012 Summer Youth Program Fund grants.

More about CICF's College Readiness & Success Initiative.